Friday, April 2, 2010

Review: BioShock 2 (PC)

BioShock 2 is an interesting game. Originally I wanted to record audio diaries similar to what can be found in the game, but I had other stuff going on and didn’t quite get the time that I wanted to devote otherwise for that project. So in some quantum splinter universe, this review could be considerably cooler and/or funnier. Oh well. I played the game for around 18 hours on the hard difficulty. Screenshot of my video settings can be seen below:

Graphical Settings

In terms of combat BioShock 2 (BS2) is pretty fun, but it is taken way too far. One stage in particular, Dionysus Park, basically existed for the transparent purpose of killing splicers and defending little sisters. In the 18 or so hours I clocked in on the hard difficulty this felt like a slap in the face after a few minutes of the level.

Rapture is as Creepy and Ideologically Polarized as Ever

This was particularly painful because the story was otherwise really good and the other levels didn’t feel nearly as forced in this regard. The core story of BioShock 2 involves family matters, more so than the first game did, and the relationship seems much more… healthy as well. Thematically, this family bond that’s presented in BioShock 2 was a good design decision as so many other games ignore this important and prevalent facet of being human. The statement that was so strongly made in BioShock when the player comes face to face with Ryan was incredibly mean-spirited and negative, and it really resonated with me. But BioShock 2 makes a similarly heady statement, if not with a more subdued voice. Instead of making me want to turn the game off, put my controller down, and take a shower though, BioShock 2’s message was positive, redeeming, and made my eyes a wee bit watery from emotional impact. Few games can effectively manage this well, and that a sequel could do it when it seemed like a cheap money grab really took me, pleasantly, by surprise.

The meager choices from the original BioShock, in how one deals with little sisters or reacts to mortal character NPCs, are back in BS2; in terms of the game-play these choices are just as stale. However, the “good” ending that I received felt much more rewarding and involved than the montage of distant scenes in the future that were the extent of BioShock’s endings. Even though it really boils down to almost superficial differences in presentation and detail, I was nonetheless impressed by this game again.

BioShock 2's Continuation of the Original's Reliance on Theme is Great 

Another thing that BS2 blindsided me with was that, except for its narrative and visual style, BioShock is otherwise pretty forgettable in regard to game-play mechanics. So much so in fact that to save my life I couldn’t begin to explain which weapons or plasmids are even new to BS2, or how any previously existing ones have been modified, save the wrench being exchanged for the drill. As fun as BioShock was, only so much of it was actually unique in terms of what it had to offer, and BioShock 2 is no departure in that regard. You go around and take care of bad guys, run errands for people you need cooperation from, and harvest resources to make you more powerful. The plethora of means that the BioShock games provide the player doesn’t change the ends. I may be spouting heresy here, but I think this point is worth considering, especially when a game like BioShock can garner so much devotion just for having thoughtful themes (the likes of which are studied in English literature) ingrained in it. If more games are treated like art instead of Hollywood blockbusters I wonder if that wouldn’t automatically make games better?

Glitch-wise, BS2 gave me quite a few headaches. There was an issue where I couldn’t get my key re-mappings to stick so I had to go in and manually edit a config file. After I did that, in-game prompts didn’t update to display to correct keys which was annoying, and the re-scavenge key to reload the loot on corpses never did work properly for me. Lastly, BS2’s integration with Games For Windows LIVE caused me serious grief as I couldn’t get the game updated properly; you can read more about that experience here.

After having completed BioShock 2, I’ve been having fun with some of the controversy surrounding it. I really think that BioShock 2 would have benefitted from having controller support, especially with the use of guns in the right hand and plasmids in the left. The kicker here is that your mouse buttons are then flipped by default, and when you’re playing many games at once like I tend to, using a fire key on the rightmost mouse button for one game is going to mess me up. With triggers there would have been no issue, and that’s what the game felt designed for. No inclusion of controller support is really just sheer laziness on the part of 2K.

There’s also been some on-disc DLC for BioShock 2. Whatever, I’ve beaten the game, enjoyed a good story, and I’m just not interested right now in going back to BS2. It’s really too bad and it’s not really 2K making a show of good faith for their customers, a sizable portion of which seem to think that BS2 doesn’t even really deserve to exist. I initially thought this same way, but then considered just how bad of an opinion it is. I’m tired of cliff-hangers, and I’d like to see more definitive endings to games. As such, I don’t want to see any franchises punished for taking this approach. With the story that BioShock 2 has to tell, I won’t make the assumption again that something doesn’t need to be revisited.

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